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US airlines ask Biden administration to block additional flights to China

By Diksha Madhok, CNN

(CNN) — The US aviation industry has asked the Biden administration to pause approval of additional flights to and from China, saying Beijing’s “existing harmful anti-competitive policies” hurt American airlines and workers.

“The competitive disadvantage is harmful to the approximately 315,000 workers employed by US passenger airlines that serve China,” according to a letter published Thursday addressing Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

The letter was signed by industry lobby group Airlines for America — whose members include American Airlines (AAL), Delta (DAL) and United (UAL) — and other unions representing aviation workers, including the Air Line Pilots Association.

“If the growth of the Chinese aviation market is allowed to continue unchecked and without concern for equality of access in the market, flights will continue to be relinquished to Chinese carriers at the expense of US workers and businesses,” it added.

In February, Washington said it will allow Chinese airlines to further increase their direct passenger flights to the United States, in an effort to gradually restore aviation services that had been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chinese carriers were given approval by US officials to make 50 weekly round trips to and from the United States, up from 35, from March 31.

But the increased number is still only a fraction of the more than 150 weekly round trips allowed by each side before curbs were imposed in early 2020.

In the letter, American carriers said China implemented strict limits to market access during the pandemic and imposed challenging rules affecting operations, customers and the treatment of US airline crew.

The “anti-competitive disadvantage” with China worsened in 2022, the letter said, when the Asian country’s airlines continued to access Russian airspace, while US carriers stopped using it as a result of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February of that year.

Having to avoid Russian airspace adds time and costs to flights.

“These actions demonstrated the clear need for the US government to establish a policy that protects US aviation workers, industry and air travelers,” it said.

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that increasing direct flights was the “consensus reached” when Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden met in San Francisco in November.

“It [boosting flights] will help the two peoples strengthen exchanges and enhance mutual understanding,” the ministry added.

— Hassan Tayir contributed reporting.

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